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It’s My Party

May 23, 2012

And yes, you most certainly have every right to cry, pout, or even be a hysterical mess if you want to. But, why? I used to be one of them. One of those stressed out control freaks (ask anyone) when I hosted people in my home. Honestly I think I made everyone around me (including the dog) uncomfortable with my nervous energy and unwillingness to just re-to-the-lax.

I think the idea of hosting an event–no matter if it’s inside your home or at your favorite restaurant–is to make people feel comfortable. It’s a chance to loosen up a bit, to come together and create a memory beyond watching “Girls” off the TiVo with a couple of Ritter bars and one glass of red wine too many. Ahem, no judgment here.

Through the years I’ve hosted or planned my fair share of baby showers, dinner parties, restaurant opening parties, and cocktail happy hours. The universal guidelines remain the same. Here are a few tid-bits I’ve picked up along the way…

KISS is key.
Not certain if this is a military acronym or just one I heard often in newsrooms, but the KISS principle (Keep It Simple Stupid) can definitely be applied to any event, especially a dinner party. This is you inviting friends over for a meal, and as long as there’s plenty to drink and you can cook something without giving people food poisoning, you’re good. I once went to a baby shower where the hostess was so frazzled and stressed that all I wanted to do was shake her and tell her to snap out of it. People were having fun, in spite of her crazed behavior. This isn’t rocket science. It’s sometimes as easy as opening a box of something and putting it on a fancy platter. Seriously, chill out. It’s a get-together–a fete, a soirée if you will. It’s no biggie.

Deal with Helpy Helpersons.
Take your friends up on, “What to bring?” if they ask, which they often do. Assign people tasks if it’s a big event and people are offering. I’m not good with hoverers, so I find assigning things out alleviates a lot of that.

Those who divide and conquer take home a prize. Or something like that.
Do not cook, clean, and shop all in one day. I’ve learned this lesson the hard way one too many times. The first, a New Years Eve party we hosted where the grocery store was so crowded and I was adamant about frosting cupcakes out of a piping bag I’d never used. Folks, do not try this at home. The last time (and reason the lesson stuck), I made crab cakes (something I’m especially good at) but also left the shopping, flower arranging, cleaning, and cooking all to the same day of hosting the dinner party. The lovely ladies I hosted were all spitting out shells the entire meal and acted like it was no big deal. I was so busy throughout the day I skimped on a really important step and paid the price with a so-so meal that would’ve normally been fantastic.

Timing is everything.
Essentially, you want to space out the course of an evening (or afternoon, what have you) accordingly. My best friend really is a pro at this. She can time out the perfect get-together, when I really have to focus on not rushing it. I once went to someone’s house for dinner and we literally walked in the door and were escorted to the table with the food already laid out for the big meal. I like a minute to relax first, to catch up, take it slow. We live in a very hectic world, what’s the rush among friends?

Select a theme.
Whether it’s a barbecue throw down competition or a pizza night, I almost always have some sort of theme for the evening. It doesn’t have to be over-the-top matching, but if it’s summer, I’ll certainly play off whatever’s in season, like a bunch of salads made from stuff in our garden paired with something thrown on the grill. Or in winter, do something like a hearty Italian and serve a first course to compliment the meal. Match the drinks a bit too. We always have beer and wine on hand, but it’s fun to have a cocktail planned as well. A theme helps things seem cohesive and makes the planning process much easier.

Details make it special.
Set the scene. I think a pretty table makes the difference. So do proper plates and glasses. Once we even moved our dining room table out in the middle of our backyard for our own version of Outstanding the Field. It was great fun and totally unexpected.

Pull a Sandra Lee.
I kinda cannot believe I’m even suggesting this because, gosh she’s bat-shite isn’t she? Don’t think so? Watch this video. But, Ms. Lee’s notion of doing some homemade and some store bought is a good one. If I’m making a pretty big main dish, several sides, and whipping up apps, I have no problem picking up dessert from my favorite bakery up the street. Or see rule number two and ask Helpy Helperson to bring something. They’ll be happy to; they live for such requests.

Be prepared for early and late arrivals.
Again, another lesson learned the hard way. Guess what, while most of us show up 15 minutes late to everything, I was raised in a military family and use to arrive at whatever time agreed upon on the dot. As an adult I actually leave late because my normal on-time is early for most, which can get you into uncomfortable situations like arriving at someone’s house while they are still trying to get ready. My twin sister and I hosted a baby shower for my sister’s first baby. It was a great fete, but we did not allot for the ridiculous number of early arrivals. My mom had to entertain beaucoup folks while we finished getting everything put together in the kitchen, running around like maniacs. On the flip side, I have several friends I’d never put in charge of providing the appetizer course. Dessert they can handle, snacks pre-dinner they cannot. Come to expect this and react accordingly.

Choose invites wisely.
The first parties we threw as a married couple we’d invite everyone we knew, but I now know better. Just because you want to invite a coworker and your best friend over for drinks doesn’t mean they’ll mesh with your neighbor. Basically, the bond you two have isn’t binding enough through degrees of separation and makes for really awkward convo when you’re not there. We’ve all been to that party where you’re stuck talking to some guy about some tech mumbo-jumbo for 15 minutes because the one person you know is M.I.A. That said, I have two friends who honchoed a monthly meetup (I like to call drinkup) with a bunch of creative women in varying professions about two years ago–writers, interior designers, fashion designers, business owners–and wow if it isn’t one of the most looked-forward-to events of the month for me. I love that I meet someone new each time I go and make connections in person through friends of friends. Believe me, it’s much better than boring old Facebook suggestions. This is real life, folks. I think it’s good to mix guests, but be very selective with it.

Clean up before bed.
I’ve written before about this nugget here, and it always holds true. If you hosting something (anything) in your home, always clean up before you tuck into jammies. The mess multiplies overnight like a Mogwai in water just before they turn into a Gremlin.